Ormula One has longed for acceptance in the United States for a long time, a market where she usually struggles to crack anything she chooses to throw at her.
It wasn’t until last year – the 10th United States Grand Prix of Lewis Hamilton’s F1 career – that he feels he and the sport have finally found that sense of belonging in the United States.
With 400,000 viewers, it attracted the biggest audience of the entire calendar while a million and more others watched it from the comfort of their homes in the United States.
Hamilton narrowly missed the race win over Max Verstappen but still left Texas buoyed by the bigger picture. “I think that’s definitely our acceptance in the United States,” he said.
Suggestions it could be an anomaly for returning sports fans, previously denied to live viewers in the age of Covid, appear to have been dispelled with a sale of 240,000 fans for the Grand Prix of Miami this weekend.
Finally, F1 in the United States is in vogue. Among the celebrities who have found their place in the inner circle of Miami, David Beckham, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, the Williams sisters, The Rock and Pharrell Williams. And interest should increase.
This is the first season since 1984 that there are two American races on the calendar. Next year a third will be added with a Saturday night race in Las Vegas.
The last time F1 raced in Vegas, it did so in the parking lot of Caesars Palace. This time, Hamilton, Verstappen and the rest of the grid will demolish the Strip, a bold concept unthinkable just a few years ago.
The United States is so passionate about F1 as an organization that it has even signed up as co-promoters of the Vegas night race, while manufacturers looking to sell cars in the country relish the growing American reach.
Television viewing figures are also on the rise. There was a 58% increase in viewership figures last year, this season so far it has increased by 35% with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix proving F1’s biggest viewership on American television since 1995 with more than 1.5 million viewers.
Sports bosses are optimistic about the US invasion, attempts that until recently had ended in endless head-scratching.
In one of his last interviews before leaving the sporting directorship, Bernie Ecclestone pontificated on why the United States had been so hard to crack. He suggested it was too fast and furious, and not long enough for the average American. He also said the future of the sport lies in Asian markets rather than across the pond.
When Liberty Media bought the sport in 2017, it shamelessly made its No. 1 ambition to successfully embed itself into the psyche of American sports fans.
At the heart of this success was the launch of the Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive in March 2018, which many believed were doomed as the protagonists of that year’s title, Mercedes and Ferrari, chose not to s register initially.
But the series created the kind of theater – often contrived but immensely watchable – that audiences in the United States simply swallowed. F1 CEO Stefano Domencali said of its impact: “Netflix has played a very important role in reaching new fans and showing the emotion and drama behind this sport.” Its obvious success has been such that other sports have signed up to do their own versions.
And yet, it is still early. Viewing numbers on ESPN are still only a fraction of the US market – unsurprising for a fledgling sport in the eyes of most Americans – but the bidding for the rights for 2023 and beyond has taken its toll. -said to have attracted interest from NBC, Fox and Amazon, with F1 bosses seeking a reported £. 60 million per year.
There is still a long way to go in other areas. F1 has at least one American team in Haas, central to Drive to Survive storylines thanks to the team’s mercurial Italian boss Guenther Steiner, but still no driver. And Michael Andretti is pushing for a second American team.
But the last United States world champion was Andretti’s father Mario in 1978, the last full-time Scott Speed rider in 2007.
It was the same year that an American race was removed from the calendar until its return in 2012, the damage caused by the public relations disaster of the 2005 edition in Indianapolis in which only six cars raced continued to safety fears over the rest of the field on Michelin tyres.
If this was the nadir of F1 in the US, last year was the polar opposite and the signs are that it will comfortably be the most-watched season in US F1 history.
For so long, F1 has struggled to find a home on American shores from Indianapolis to Sebring, from Riverside to Watkins Glen. In 2023, he has three, and the sport claims this is just the start.